Marine Le Pen and the University of Oxford (Update: Event delayed by protest)

UPDATE: Up to 300 demonstrators are reported to have picketed this event in opposition to Marine Le Pen, with a small number forcing the event to be delayed for over an hour as they “came close to scaling the walls from the street outside”.

Tomorrow, the leader of the French Front National, Marine Le Pen, is due to speak at the University of Oxford.

First reported several weeks ago, a number of groups opposing Le Pen’s invitation have sought to have the event cancelled, but appear to have been unsuccessful.

At the time of writing, over 230 people have stated they will attend a protest planned to oppose her speech.

It has also been suggested that an English Democrats candidate has tried to organise a demonstration in support of Le Pen.

Le Pen and her party have frequently targeted the Muslim community in France, and in the wake of January’s terrorist attacks in Paris, she said mosques in France should be put under surveillance.

This echoed comments made following Mohamed Merah’s 2012 shootings, in which Le Pen asked: “how many Mohamed Merah’s arrive in France in boats, planes, full of immigrants” and said “prayers in mosques should be automatically under surveillance”.

She also suggested that foreigners coming from “countries where they train terrorists should be systematically expelled from France. And for French citizens it will be wearing permanent electronic tags”.

While universities have a duty to uphold freedom of speech, they also have to ensure that the safety of their students is maintained.

Inviting speakers like Marine Le Pen risks legitimising the prejudices of those who might target minority groups, and we hope the university reconsiders its decision to give her a platform.

In addition, the presence of protestors opposing Le Pen – and potentially those supporting her – means there is likely to be an incendiary atmosphere on campus.

If this event does go ahead therefore, the University of Oxford must ensure that these protests do not lead to violent disorder – and that Le Pen is properly challenged on her views.

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